STORY BY CHERYL THORNBURG
@MercArtsCheryl on Twitter
Like many people, when I heard that Genesius Theatre’s fall show was ”Carrie the Musical,” I wondered how anyone would be able to turn Stephen King’s horror flick into a musical. But now, having seen it, the idea was sheer genius. The dream team that came up with it includes Lawrence D. Cohen (screenwriter of the classic film), with music by Academy Award winner Michael Gore (“Fame,” “Terms of Endearment”) and lyrics by Academy Award winner Dean Pitchford (“Fame,” “Footloose”). Think “High School Musical” with a serious edge, better music, a supernatural twist and a relevant message.
The title character Carrie and her story are known worldwide. Carrie White is the quintessential outsider, bullied mercilessly at school and tyrannized at home by her religious fanatic mother, Margaret. When eventually she is pushed too far, the results are disastrous as she unleashes her burning rage – literally.
At the heart of this amazing production’s success is Becca Snyder, who seems to have been born to play this role. From the moment she steps on stage as the meek teen she commands the audience’s attention and from the very first note of her solo “Carrie,” you know this show is going to be something special. Her acting and vocal talent is captivating and the audience feels her pain and confusion.
Backing her up is a gifted cast that includes many high-school age actors – but don’t let that concern you – this is professional-class acting from everyone. In fact, the age of actors adds authenticity and relatability to the story with its youthful passion and energy.
Two other young actresses play key roles, Briana Christie as Sue Snell, who has some sympathy for Carrie, and Kara Snyder as Chris Hargensen, who is Carrie’s chief tormenter. Both have the vocal and acting ability to create these two very different characters.
Snell’s Sue is real as she struggles with her guilt over helping to harass Carrie and her clear soprano brings a vulnerability to songs like “Once You See.” Her duet “You Shine” with Drew Boardman, who plays her boyfriend Tommy, is one of the high points of the show. Boardman also performs a beautiful ballad, “Dreamer in Disguise,” that is one of the memorable tunes from the show.
Hargensen is spot-on as the ultimate mean girl, whose vicious pranks lead to a deadly conclusion. She shines in “The World According to Chris.” She is joined in that number by Joe Swaggerty as Billy Nolan, her bad boy boyfriend.
The other key figure in the plot is Margaret White, Carrie’s mother, played to maddening perfection by Cathy Miller. Miller gradually paints a picture of a religious woman who has clearly gone over the edge. Her passionate delivery of “And Eve Was Weak” and “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance” in duets with Carrie is intense and her performance in “When There’s No One” evokes sympathy for this somewhat disturbing character.
My favorite song from the show is delivered by Carrie with her kind-hearted gym teacher, Miss Gardner , as they sing “unsuspecting hearts,” the ballad that may follow you out of the theater and all the way home. Gardner is played by Amy Hudak who gibes warmth and depth to what could have been a cookie cutter performance.
Rounding out the cast are Nick Schwenk, who plays multiple adult roles, and Raina Daynorowicz, Dara Himes, Mamie Covell, Abby Hoy, Bo Irwin, Nick Covell, Eli Noll and Strat Yost.
Adding to the changing atmosphere on stage are some spectacular special effects created by lighting and projections that are a creative way of dealing with the supernatural events that take place. The set was constructed by John Bigos and Betty Gerstner, and projections are by Dave Neel and Jordan Baylor with lighting designed by Spencer Moss Fecho.
Backing up the cast is a 7-piece band conducted by Pete Bourey. The music enhances the performances without ever overpowering the vocalists.
“Carrie the Musical” is directed by Christopher Sperat. Choreographed by Amanda Guitstwite and produced by L J Fecho.
Genesius’ “Carrie” is the complete package – great music, great acting, great special effects – it’s a memorable night at the theater and well worth the trip to downtown Reading.
It continues Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday Oct. 24 and 25 at 8 p.m., and Sunday Oct. 26, at 2 p.m., To purchase tickets with all major credit cards visit the website at www.genesiustheatre.org or call 610-373-9500. Tickets range from $17.50 to $28.50, and credit card fees apply. Tickets are also available at the door. For more information, contact the theater at 610-371-8151. Genesius Theatre is handicap accessible and there is free parking next to the theater (limited spaces available).
Note: The subject matter of the show is not suitable for young audiences and it is rated PG-13.